Monthly Archives: June 2015

Windows Is Cleaning Out Its Closet to Make Room for a Better App Store

A lot of people hate the Windows Store. Since Windows 8 was unveiled in 2012, Windows released an app store designed to run on touch screen surfaces of tablets and PCs. However, Windows was in a bit too much of a rush to fill the store with apps, and as such adhered to some less-than-ideal app policies. This led to an influx of apps that were… low-quality, to say the least. Duplicate apps, apps with similar titles, overpriced apps, and falsely advertised apps all contributed to the general public’s distaste of the Windows store.

In anticipation of Windows 10, which will be released over the summer, Windows is cleaning out its virtual shelf space and tightening regulations. Windows 10 is designed to create a seamless experience from phone to tablet to PC. As such, it’s merging the Windows Store and the Windows Phone Store into a one-stop shopping superstore. In the meantime, it’s making room for better quality apps and getting rid of junk. To do this, its new guidelines will:

  • Remove apps that have similar content, names, and icons, and disallow them in the future. Too many apps doing the same thing confuse and mislead customers. Apps that copy popular titles but don’t deliver on content will also be removed from the store.
  • Make it clear what customers are purchasing. Currently, educational apps like reference guides are lumped in with games and other apps. This has been misleading customers to buy tutorials and guides they don’t need. The new Windows store will require developers to clearly label their apps as to what they are and what they offer. Likewise, any third-party apps that falsely advertise functionality by ripping off big-time names will be promptly removed.
  • Revisit the pricing structure. Because developers set their own prices for their apps, the marketplace has become a veritable free-for-all on pricing practices. Apps that offer the same functionality as others, but are significantly overpriced, will be discouraged and may even be removed.

Hopefully, Microsoft’s decision to pull back the reins on app guidelines will generate new interest in its app store.


Google Tries Again With a New Mobile Payment Platform

Technology is greatly changing the way we pay for our goods. By the end of this year, over 600 million Americans will be using shiny new EMV cards as a new security feature, and some Americans won’t be using cards at all. Mobile payment systems are gaining just as much popularity as new EMV cards are, which is a refreshing change after a long struggle. Mobile payments have been around for several years, but didn’t make much headway until Apple announced Apply Pay on iPhones and the Apple Watch.

Less than 3 days after the announcement of Apple Pay, over 1 million credit cards had been activated in the system. The overnight spike in popularity has led other e-commerce and tech industry leaders to great lengths to catch up.

Google had its own version of a mobile payment system, but was not nearly as wildly received. Apple Pay came out on top with its easy to use features, more enhanced security, and much more extensive list of partners. However, Google’s new mobile pay platform may change the game. Last week, it unveiled its new Android Pay platform, which works similarly to Apple Pay. Users will be able to pay for in-store or mobile items straight from a virtual wallet.

The platform also allows users to draw money from third-party bank accounts. Google has built the platform to be more flexible to let users choose the payment methods that work best for them. What’s more, Android Pay has greatly expanded its partner list and can now be used in roughly 700,000 stores across the country. The platform will be integrated into other apps like Lyft and Groupon, as well.

Google announced the Android Pay platform will be officially released with the new Android operating system, set to rollout in late 2015. The mobile pay market is already huge, totaling $3.5 billion in payments last year. By 2018, experts predict that number will soar to a whopping $118 billion. With wearable devices and a bevy of mobile payment options, consumer may very well be ditching their “real world” wallets forever.


Apple iPhone Is the Target of yet Another Prankster Bug

Pranksters have been running rampant across iOS devices over the past few weeks. Earlier last week, a bug was exploited that would crash an iPhone user’s phone when he or she received a certain Unicode text message. This week, the pranks have moved onto Snapchat and Twitter, crashing phones with social media notifications.

The original text message prank started when someone discovered that sending a string of specific Unicode characters as a text message could cause the phone on the receiving end to crash. When users receive the text message in a pop-up notification, the code prompts the phone to overuse its resources, which in turn crashes the device. Apple techs have been working on a patch that will disable this feature.

In the meantime, hackers are able to move onto social media networks like Snapchat and Twitter to exploit the very same glitch. A research officer at a Finland based security firm demonstrated this capability last week. Apple hasn’t specifically said it is researching a patch for the Snapchat/Twitter bug, but it did say it would be making a fix available in an upcoming software update. When the update will be release still remains unknown.

In the meantime, it is relatively easy to avoid the bug altogether. Both the text message and social media bug operate under one major flaw: they only work when they are sent as notifications. That means users who have notifications turned off will never have to deal with the issue. Consumers who are worried about receiving a buggy notification simply have to change their settings and turn off notifications until a patch is released.

Alternatively, iPhone users can ask Siri to read and respond to the message (so they don’t have to open their phone and cause the crash). Once Siri responds to the message, users can safely open their message center and resume regular activity.

Luckily, the events of the past two weeks were just harmless pranks that didn’t cause any long-term damage, but it does speak to the amount of work Apple has put into their latest iOS. Since the release of iOS 8 last year, they have already released six patches to fix bugs. Now it looks like number seven is in order.


Experience New Virtual Worlds for $20 With Google Cardboard

Google has been gracing headlines in tech news consistently over the past few weeks with new technology designed for the masses. This week, its most alluring technology is a device meant to let everyone experience virtual reality, right from their smartphones. The device, named “Cardboard,” attaches to any phone or tablet up to six inches long.

This includes the Apple iPhone. Virtual Reality is not a shockingly new concept; headsets have been around since the late 90s, albeit low quality ones. Recently, some of the larger tech giants released VR headsets that immerse users in a virtual world full of complex imagery. But these devices come at a high price point, averaging roughly $350. But Google’s Cardboard version is just a fraction of that price: $20.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Google Cardboard is that it is, in fact, made of cardboard. The device uses a series of bent cardboard pieces, lenses, a magnet, and a rubber band to create a virtual world that mounts to your smart phone. To outsiders, someone using the device looks like he or she is looking into a cardboard box. But inside, they are being transported to a completely virtual reality, with their smart phone driving the ship. Consumers everywhere will be able to experience their own virtual reality world at a very affordable cost. However, critics are not so receptive to the technology.

Critics are worried that Google Cardboard will allow access to a VR technology that isn’t quite there yet. They have expressed their fear that a sour experience this early on in the game could ruin the hype surrounding VR technology. But the general public doesn’t seem to mind. Of course, everyone wants to try out VR, and most of us don’t have hundreds to spend on a smart phone device that allows us to.

As of right now, Google is staying away from using VR technology for gaming. It’s encouraging Google services like Google Earth to let users experience VR in places around the world. Have you ever wanted to visit Japan? Now you can by firing up Google Earth, choosing a destination, and strapping on Cardboard.

It’s hard to tell where the future of VR will lead us, but Google seems to be the company that will bring this amazing technology to the general public first.


Google Packs Big Power Into a Small Package With Chromecast

Tech giants have been trying to make their way into our living rooms over the past several years with streaming TV services. Apple TV, Amazon streaming, and Google Chromecast have all been in an arms race to offer the best technology at the most affordable prices. Since 2013, Google’s Chromecast “TV stick” has been slightly ahead of the competition with better features and more affordability. Android TV, which was announced last year, functions more like a set-top box and features software that easily merges its technology with that of your TV and remote. Google’s most recent added feature will surely secure its spot in first place.

When Chromecast first emerged on the market, it worked like a cherry picking device. Users would choose a show they wanted to watch from an app on their smart phone, then “cast” it onto their TV screen. Now, Google has evolved the device to allow users to queue a stream of videos, much like watching nonstop TV. While the user is watching one show, Chromecast is busy buffering the next one for delivery, so there are virtually no lags between videos.

Google has also developed a new gaming interface that allows several devices to connect to a receiver, which allows consumers to play multiplayer games through the Chromecast interface. Essentially, this API turns tablets and smart phones into video game controllers, while the Chromecast itself acts as a console. Chromecast product manager Nathan Camarillo demonstrated the devices motion gaming capabilities at a developers conference in late May.

The Chromecast’s ability to connect multi-player gamers across several devices is a huge benefit to game developers. They can now begin developing apps that let users control games on their TV from their smart phones. It’s not all games either; developers themselves can use motion controls to use image editors, present slideshows, and make changes to virtual aesthetics, easily and remotely.

By adding the ability to binge-watch streaming TV and control games from multiple devices, Google has taken a big step ahead of the competition.